Who's That Girl?,
and a few more movies

#208  [archive]
NOV. 6, 2023

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

It was late summer, 1987. A hot afternoon was fading into evening, after I'd spent the day working six games as an umpire in the state softball playoffs, in Wentachee, WA. I'd blown a call at second base, been yelled at and deserved the yelling, so sweaty and tuckered and far from home, I decided to treat my van to a drive-in movie.

La Bamba looked good, and was playing at something called the Vue Dale Drive-In, which I found after a few wrong turns. But tragically, the movie was sold out.

I didn't have a hotel, was living in my van, so it was either my little black-and-white TV for entertainment, or reading a book under a streetlamp, or whatever was playing on screen 2. 

Madonna's Who's That Girl? Why not? I'd liked Desperately Seeking Susan. Anyway, the Madonna movie had plenty of empty speaker-spaces, so I bought my admission.

The drive-in was rickety but charming, nestled against a hillside, as the sun was settling behind the hill. You drove twenty yards up a very slight incline, then curved back and faced down the hill to watch the show.

I parked in a slot with empty spaces all around, and as I walked to the concession stand for popcorn and chocolate, I waved at the closest customers, a black family in a station wagon — mom, dad, three kids — three spaces away.

When I came back to my van, the dad smiled and walked a few steps toward me, and said, "Madonna doesn't do it for me, but La Bamba was sold out."

I said, "Me too!" and laughed, and we talked very briefly, as Mrs Black set up a tailgate meal at the back of their station wagon. She offered me a piece of fried chicken, so I said thanks and took a bite, and it was soooo dang good. When I said so, she gave me two more pieces.

This wasn't the Colonel. It was the best dang fried chicken ever in my life — chicken I'll always remember. Each piece was huge, oozing juice, and coated with buttery batter that stung my tongue with spices just right.

And I liked the movie, too. I remember wondering why it had gotten such bad reviews, so I watched it again tonight, eating a plastic tray of chicken from the grocery deli. And guess what?

The chicken back then must've put me in a crazy good mood, because the movie is utter crap. It's a screwball comedy without laughs. I clicked it off after twenty minutes and six or seven impossible plot developments. It's too stupid to merit another sentence.

But damn, that chicken was good. Not tonight's chicken; that was lukewarm and short on taste. But that chicken 36 years ago, my oh my.

The internet tells me that the Vue Dale Drive-In closed in 2010, and is now Vuedale Storage. Yeah, the whole world has gone wronger and wronger, all my life.

Verdict: NO.


Brumes d'automne (1929)
Streaming free

Here's an early example of the power of film, and it still has the power.

A sad woman remembers meeting someone she'd loved, burns their letters, walks beside a stream amidst autumn rainfall. A wordless silent film, short, beautiful, melancholy.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sons of the Desert (1933) 

When I was a kid, there was a Saturday morning cartoon version of Laurel & Hardy, but it sure wasn't funny. Maybe that's why this is my first actual Laurel & Hardy film.

It's much slower-paced than other early comedies I've seen, and I like that. 

Stan & Ollie have joined the Sons of the Desert, a Masonic-style lodge where old white men hail their own importance. They're hoping to attend the fraternal order's convention in Chicago, if their wives allow it. 

The jokes are older than the movie, with the boys arguing about which of them is more henpecked by his wife, Stanley eating a bowl of wax fruit, etc, and reliably they get into "another fine mess."

Nothing here knocked me over like Buster Keaton, but this was funny enough for your great-granddad, and it's still funny. How often do you get a chance to hang out with your great-granddad?

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Truck Turner (1974)
Streaming free

Isaac Hayes stars and sings the title song, and Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek is in this black action flick. She's why the movie made my watchlist, but instead of being a Pam Grier-style kick-ass black woman, she runs a bordello and talks mean, and she's not good at it.

Most of the movie has Hayes playing a tough-talking bounty hunter, and everyone wants him dead, because for reasons too troublesome to explain, whoever kills him gets to be the city's new number one pimp. Yaphet Kotto is the baddie who most wants Hayes dead.

There are lots of things going on here, none of which make sense, but it's rarely dull. I like blaxploitation, so how come I'd never heard of this before?

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)
The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
The Card Counter (2021) 
The General (1926)
Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988) 
Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022)
The Killing of America (1981)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) 
The Manhattan Project (1996)
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Taken for a Ride (1996)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The Bat People (1974)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Dark Star (1974)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
The General (1926)
Get Shorty (1995)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Who Farted? (2019)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. This is what happens when a music guy stumbles across a movie site. Isaac Hayes and his writing partner David Porter are in the Songwriters Hall of Fame for the southern soul songs they wrote for Sam and Dave and arranged for Otis Redding and others, and, of course for Hot Buttered Soul, mostly on the Stax Label, headquartered in an old movie theater located in a no-man's land between white and black neighborhoods in Memphis. Memphis, as you will know, was a center for both southern soul and white rock & Roll. Isaac worked down the hall of lime green carpet from Booker T and the MGs. Nobody knows for sure what MG stood for, but Isaac took off his shirt and made himself an album.


    1. Alex Chilton is my hero. Even though he was a rich kid, he maybe more than anyone personified the "fuck you" spirit of rock and roll that, when properly executed, became a "fuck me" disaster. That's true rebellion and subversion, not posturing. No one was as talented at both the music and making self-destructive, utterly perverse and ruinous decisions. Forget the antics of GG Allin, The Replacements, all the metal bands, et al - Chilton was more rock and roll than all of them, in all the ways that mattered.

      And poor Chris Bell!

    2. MG wasn't the car, as I always assumed?

      All I know is Green Onions mostly, and that they were controversial for being black and white.

    3. Stax asserted in one of their quarterly Stax Newsletters that MG stood for "Memphis Group". They fired the guy who first produced the group (he happened to drive an MG) and were girding themselves for a possible lawsuit over ownership rights to the name. The guy went on a several year drunk instead and sobered up and opened another studio and did pretty well. Booker T and the MGs went on to a 45-year career touring the world until Donald "Duck" Dunn died after a show in Tokyo in 2012. During much of this run, BT&MGs were the de facto house band at Stax.


    4. Hey, I remember Donald "Duck" Dunn from The Blues Brothers! Today I knew sumfin!

      I'm interested enough to have enjoyed both halves of that guy's name — Chips Moman. If my surname was Moman I'd want the nickname "Gimme."


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